During Islam’s sacred month of Ramadan, U.S. Muslims are stepping up holiday charity toward non-Muslims to counter anti-Islamic sentiment since the Sept. 11 attacks, experts said.

Key edicts of Ramadan, which began yesterday at sunset, are to fast and promote good conduct. The devil is said to be shackled, making it easier than during the rest of the year to perform good deeds and give charity.

Although some Muslims have always had a broad interpretation of these tenets, there has been a shift in recent years to look beyond the Muslim community for where one gives. This is the result both of a more mature Muslim American social service infrastructure and of a drive to counter anti-Muslim rhetoric since 2001, experts say.

“For decades, Muslims were internally focused, and I think September 11th accelerated the natural process of becoming more externally focused,” said Ihsan Bagby, author of several studies of Muslim worship trends in the United States. “It’s not like the impulse to do good is some new idea in Islam; concern for the poor, the weak is throughout the Koran. It’s just that Muslims in this country hadn’t implemented it very well. Now a wave is starting to form.”

Community service events planned in the region during Ramadan include feeding day laborers, fundraising for city shelters and helping to organize nonviolence and interfaith projects. . .

When he was growing up, Joshua Salaam remembers, his demeanor would change during Ramadan. He would actively try to avoid gossip – “even joking about people,” Salaam, 33, said of his teenage years in the Midwest and later in the Air Force.

Today he adds a bit to that basic dictate. Although he still experiences a mind-set change during Ramadan, a period when Muslims aim to deepen their spiritual practice, Salaam will also participate in an interfaith event, a walk designed to bring together people of different faiths.

Salaam, a youth leader for the All Dulles Area Mosque Society, a large community center known as ADAMS, said people are reacting to anti-Muslim sentiment since Sept. 11.

“Muslims were asking: How could a whole nation turn on us? The answer is because they didn’t know us, they weren’t familiar with Islam,” he said. “We need to get back that aspect [of Islam] that is neighborly.” (MORE)


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